Where The Wild Things Are
October 27, 2009 by Zack
This has to be one of the most well known children’s books of all time. Anyone who is anyone remembers this book being read to them by teachers, or their parents, when they were growing up. Alongside our various “Ramona” and “Berenstain Bears” books, was an old library copy of “Where the Wild Things Are”. I remember very little about the book, except the monsters.
The film, directed by Spike Jonze (”Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Being John Malkovich”), explores the book’s very thin idea about imagination, and creates a real world surrounding an imaginary one reminding me a bit of “The Neverending Story”. In fact, the beginnings of both movies were similar. A young boy with a big imagination is an outcast among his peers and comes from a broken family. In “The Neverending Story”, the character Bastian skips school and falls into the world of the book he’s reading. In “Where the Wild Things Are”, Max loses himself in a far-off island inhabited by big (and somewhat scary) monsters who are facing a crisis.
The film has an uneven feel to it at first because we’re not exactly sure what to like about Max. He’s obnoxious and likes to run around and scream a lot. But what exactly is his problem? Is it the fact that no one listens to him? Is it that he has no friends? We’re not even really sure if he does or not. But I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry for him. I’ll admit that I didn’t really, at first. When he first reaches the island with the monsters, they’re having problems with a monster named Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini); and, like Max, they’re not really sure what his problem is, either. But he’s throwing a temper tantrum, and Max joins in. Carol takes to Max, thinking maybe they understand each other–and Max convinces the monsters that he is a king. Carol makes him their king, and like in the book, they have a “wild rumpus”.
At this point in the film, I was really lost on what this was about. It seemed to have no direction. Because the screenplay didn’t flesh out Max’s character enough, we’re only left with a bunch of howling creatures and a howling boy set against a howling soundtrack.
But once the plot unfolds with bringing a conflict in, it does take shape and in the end, redeems itself. A character, KW, has two owl friends named Bob and Terry that for some reason Carol doesn’t like. What you don’t find out is why–but I believe that may be the point. Carol is just being selfish and while he wants everything to be the way it was–with everyone together–he refuses to change himself or be more open minded. In Max’s real life situation, he is exactly like Carol. He’s broken away from his family because he doesn’t want to adapt or accept change.
At least, that’s what I got out of it. The film’s major flaw is the directionlessness of the first two acts. It has moments of fun and laughter; but because it seems to have no purpose, sometimes it feels empty and hard to follow. And for a supposedly imaginative movie about the exploration of imagination, it seemed fairly unimaginative in its execution. I could see not only the children in the audience squirming, but the parents were just as clueless and impatient. The film finishes strong, however; and James Gandolfini’s fine performance as Carol saves the movie. His intensity and sadness provide depth that allows you to feel something for him. And him being the window character for Max, we feel something for him as well.
Overall, the film is a good one–but I’m not sure what kids will take away from it. If they’re not incredibly petrified by the monsters, they might be confused by what is going on during the movie and wondering why the monsters are depressed. But if they get the fact that the movie is about selfishness and why it’s important to open your mind and change with the situation, then the film has done its job.
I just think it could have been done a bit better.